The church has a credibility problem. And it’s not going away.

NEWS | Tess Holgate
Wednesday 3 June 2015

The credibility of the church and Christians is being challenged in the public sphere thanks to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Andrew Cameron, Director of St. Mark’s National Theological Centre in Canberra, says that the big problem is that “we were meant to be the natural bastions against this stuff.”

But he adds that we as non-perpetrators and non-victims cannot simply claim that we weren’t part of this abuse.

“To be a Christian is to be a member of the collective and be caught up in the sins of that collective. We are one, in ways that we don’t always want to be.

“Responses like: that was then, I wasn’t part of it, somehow I’m suffering unjustly, we meant well, didn’t want the children to be hurt, and it’s good to have been forgiven, actually sidestep the victims completely. It kicks them to the curb,” says Andrew.

“I don’t think you can overstate the damage to the reputation of the church and Christianity that has happened through these events,” says Simon Smart, Director of the Centre for Public Christianity, at a panel discussion regarding the implications of the Royal Commission for Christian churches and institutions.

“And,” Simon tells us, “people just think of it as the church.” They’re not thinking of particular denominations.

“There is a sense of total loss of moral authority that’s come with this. People think, ‘Why should they tell us about anything, especially sexual ethics when this is going on?’ ” says Simon.

“There needs to be a seachange in how Christian leaders see themselves,” says Andrew. “If you’re feeling anxious [about this issue], then you might just want to hunker down and hope it passes.”

But even though that might be our temptation, Andrew is quick to remind us that this isn’t just going to pass while we huddle in our corner of self-protection. “Step aside from self protective stories and admit the anxiety that you’re feeling. Feel it, face it, embrace it and work out who to be next.”

Nicky Lock, a counsellor and clinical supervisor says, “we have to own what has been done and that it was wrong. We can never do enough – whatever paltry thing we offer is never enough.

But she is quick to say that the church is taking responsive action.

“There is a real problem with issue fatigue around the compliance issues of safe ministry and child protection.

“We need to see it not as compliance, but as a kingdom building issue. We want safe Christian institutions and churches where children and young people are safe,” says Nicky.

“When institutions have good policies it does prevent child abuse.”

Image: Matt on Flickr, used under CC License.

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